Pick your routes well

Different terrain can spur runners, raise fitness levels, reduce injury and improve ankle/hip stability

When tackling an event like The Straits Times Virtual Run's 175km challenge, which needs to be broken up into several sessions, you should pay attention to the routes you choose to run on.

The event is equivalent to about four marathons and you have been given eight weeks to complete it.

Here are some things to consider:

Should you run the same route every day?

Going through the same daily routine to get to work, at work or even after work might get boring for the majority of us and we crave something new and something to look forward to.

So exploring new routes and small alleys which you never knew existed may be a good way to heighten your running experience.

Another less common and obvious point to runners: You might not be aware but running the same route daily may also lead to injuries or physical imbalance. By passing the same areas, going around the same bend or corners, and having the same motion while running every day, it may bring about an imbalance in muscle development.

Also, being overly familiar with your route may bring about complacency and the likelihood of zoning out during the run, resulting in potential falls.

The lack of variety might eventually lead to a plateau in fitness levels. By repeating the same motion with similar intensity, the body is repeatedly stressing the same stressor. With this, it might start to adapt and not react as well to the stressors, leading to a plateau in fitness.

What are the advantages of doing different routes?

Having the option of different routes can encourage individuals to discover new places and even have a different view of places they have driven past.

Runners who continuously explore new routes can enjoy the different terrain and scenery; to find what they truly enjoy and need at that point.

This not only helps to refresh and recharge our mental aspects but also improve our fitness levels with the varying degrees of difficulty.

Different routes can present varying degrees of difficulty each time; some routes may have hills or various terrain such as grass, sand, trail or gravel. Each route will bring on its own set of fun and challenges which entice individuals to try and overcome them.

Using these challenging climbs and terrain to improve their fitness levels, runners may feel more confident and comfortable when they return to their usual route.

They will be more aware of what their body is capable of then, and might gain more motivation and pleasure in running.

Is there an advantage of running on different terrain?

Running on different terrain will help to work different muscle groups and increase the runner's overall strength over time.

This improvement in strength and endurance can also help reduce chances of injury and enhance one's running performance as well. More importantly, the reduction in frequency of the same route will help to reduce muscle imbalance as mentioned earlier.

Although running on hilly terrain may slow your pace down, it helps to build various muscle groups such as our glutes, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps.

The strength built from running on hilly terrain can help to improve speed when running on flat ground.

Running on soft terrain such as grass can help to reduce the impact on joints (especially during landing).

It is also good for individuals who are returning from injury to start on softer terrain.

Those who have been running frequently on hard surfaces, such as tarmac or concrete, should also explore softer terrain, as these hard surfaces place more stress on our bones and joints.

An alternative to grass would be trails where runners often experience stunning scenery.

However, they will have to pay extra attention to the ground as there may be fallen branches, rocks and roots.

For new runners, it is good to choose a flatter and well-conditioned trail (for example Coney Island) at the start to strengthen the necessary muscle groups and gain experience.

With more difficult trails, these may offer unforgiving pathways which challenge runners to strengthen and improve their ankle and hip stability.

So do plan to have a variety of runs. Avoid repeating the same route/terrain as it may pose more harm than good in the long run.

Each terrain has its own pros and cons, depending on the fitness and comfort level of the runner, so choose your routes carefully.

• Loh Guo Pei is a former national athlete and certified coach who trains the New Balance Running Club. Follow this series over the next few weeks as he shares tips on tackling The ST Virtual Run's 175km distance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 18, 2020, with the headline 'Pick your routes well'. Subscribe